Discover the Saint of the Month
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St. Justin Martyr
Feast Day: June 1
St. Justin was born of Greek parents in Flavia Neapolis (today’s Nablus, Jordan) in about AD 100. He trained in Greek Platonic philosophy and became a Christian at age 30 after an old man, whom he had met on the seashore, spoke to him about the prophets of the Old Testament and about Christianity. Justin saw Christianity as the fulfillment of Plato’s highest aspirations.
After Justin’s conversion, he taught Christian philosophy at Ephesus, and in 135 left for Rome, where he opened his own Christian school.
In about 165, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Justin was denounced to the city prefect, Rusticus, for being a Christian. When he refused to sacrifice to idols, he was scourged and beheaded with six other Christians. “Do you think,” the prefect said to Justin, “that by dying you will enter heaven and be rewarded by God?” “I do not think,” was the Saint’s answer; “I know.”
The Acts of his martyrdom are extant, and their importance lies in the fact that they are a contemporary record. The exact date of his martyrdom is unknown, but his memorial has always been celebrated in the East on June 1. Justin was the Church’s first great apologist, and he was the first Christian thinker to try to reconcile the teachings of faith with reason. His two Apologies are invaluable for their description of the Church’s early liturgy.
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St. Mary, Virgin
Lived: 16 BC - 58 AD
Feast Day: January 1
Patronage: All good activity and all of humanity; Mother of the Church
May is the month of Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of God. What we know about Mary comes from the New Testament and the traditions of the Church. Mary is with Jesus at birth, throughout His life and ministry, and at the crucifixion.
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she would be the mother of Jesus, she accepted the role in perfect faith and obedience: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). At the crucifixion, Jesus said to a disciple concerning Mary, “Behold your mother!” Thus Catholics call Mary “our mother.” St. Thomas Aquinas described the special veneration due to Mary as far less than that due to God but greater than that due to other saints.
In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the Church distinguishes between veneration for Mary and adoration of Christ:
Placed by the grace of God, as God’s Mother, next to her Son, and exalted above all angels and men, Mary intervened in the mysteries of Christ and is justly honored by a special cult in the Church.
Clearly from earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, under whose protection the faithful took refuge in all their dangers and necessities. Hence after the Synod of Ephesus the cult of the people of God toward Mary wonderfully increased in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: “All generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me”. This cult, as it always existed, although it is altogether singular, differs essentially from the cult of adoration which is offered to the Incarnate Word, as well to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favorable to it.
The various forms of piety toward the Mother of God, which the Church within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the conditions of time and place, and the nature and ingenuity of the faithful has approved, bring it about that while the Mother is honored, the Son, through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, is rightly known, loved and glorified and that all His commands are observed.” (Lumen Gentium, VII, 66)
Discover Mary in Scripture and Tradition with Behold Thy Mother, the 30-day Verbum challenge.
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St. Catherine of Siena
Feast Day: April 29
Patronage: Fire prevention, miscarriages, sexual temptation, sickness, and people ridiculed for their piety
Catherine of Siena is a highly revered saint and doctor of the Church, known chiefly for her mysticism and spiritual writing, as well as her influence on Pope Gregory XI.
Born Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa amid the ravages of the Bubonic plague, Catherine was the 23rd-born of her mother (her twin sister died shortly after childbirth, and half of her mother’s children had already died by that time). She was a merry child, nicknamed “Euphrosyne,” or joy in Greek.
At age five or six, Catherine reportedly had her first vision of Christ, and at age seven vowed to give her life to him. At age sixteen, when her older sister died, she resisted pressure from her parents to marry her sister’s widower. She even cut her hair short to become less attractive for marriage.
Perhaps this vigilance prepared for her for most famous vision, her “Mystical Marriage” with Jesus, which she describes in her letters. In it, she receives from Christ a wedding ring. Some hold it was a bedazzled ring, others that it was made of Christ’s foreskin—a motif Catherine does use, though she typically claims the ring was invisible.
Catherine’s mystic visions and experiences formed the basis for much of her writing, including the major treatise The Dialogue of Divine Providence, which is “a dialogue between a soul who ‘rises up’ to God and God himself.” Perhaps more significant are her letters, which include correspondents like the Pope (whom she often addressed as Babbo, or “Daddy,” instead of the formal address “Your Holiness”), Raymond of Capua, French and Hungarian kings, and many others.
Catherine was buried in the cemetery of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, near the Pantheon in Rome. However, after reports of miracles near her grave, her body was moved inside the Basilica of the church itself, where it remains.
Explore the Writings of St. Catherine of Siena
Lived: 90 BC – 18 AD
Feast Days: March 19 and May 1
Patronage: Universal Church, unborn children, fathers, workers, travelers, immigrants, and a happy death
St. Joseph, husband of Mary the mother of Jesus, is one of the Catholic saints about whom we know the least. All we know for certain about St. Joseph is what we find in in Matthew 1 and Luke 2.
Joseph was a descendant of King David and a good man who sought to honor Mary and obey God’s instructions. When Herod felt threatened by the birth of “the king of the Jews,” Joseph protected Mary and Jesus by escaping to Egypt. And when Herod died, an angel told Joseph it was safe to return to Israel.
We also know that Joseph was a carpenter, and Jesus took on the carpentry trade. Because Joseph doesn’t appear after Jesus’ visit to the temple at age 12, many people believe Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry around age 30.
Beyond these biblical facts, there are a few legends concerning Joseph. One is that Jesus and Mary were with Joseph when he died, which is why Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. Another handed down from St. Jerome is that Joseph was previously married and had children identified throughout the Gospels as Jesus’ brothers (Matthew 12:46, Luke 8:19–20, and John 7:3–10, among others).
Despite the lack of Joseph’s words recorded in Scripture, we know for certain Joseph was a righteous man who faithfully loved and served Mary and the child Jesus.
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St. Peter Damian
Lived: c. 1007–February 22, 1072
Feast Day: February 21
Patronage: Spiritual warfare, Church reformers, and Faenza, Italy
Born into a noble, but poor family, Peter Damian overcame early hardships at the hands of his own relatives to reach great success in the academic world. He made rapid progress in his studies through his graduation to the University of Parma. By the age of 25, Peter Damian was already renowned for his piety, intellect, and teachings.
Peter Damian became discouraged by the scandals of university and sought the relative solitude of monastic life and joined the church. Despite his seclusion, Peter Damian became well known for his wisdom and was promoted within its ranks. He was instrumental in settling many disputes within the church and helped heal the schisms of the day. Eventually, he was consecrated Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia in 1057.
Peter Damian was a prolific writer, with his theological thinking perhaps best exemplified in his most famous work, De Divina Omnipotentia, a letter addressing the power of God. After returning to Ravenna where he first began his studies, he died in 1073. Though no formal canonization ever took place, Peter Damian rose to sainthood and was pronounced a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XII in 1823.
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St. Thomas Aquinas
Lived: 1225–March 7. 1274
Feast Day: January 28
Patronage: Academics, apologists, philosophers, and theologians
One of the most influential philosophers and theologians of all time, St. Thomas Aquinas, is remembered for synthesizing the philosophy of Aristotle with the teachings of the Church. His Summa Theologiae is considered a masterwork of philosophical theology and continues to influence Christian and secular thought on ethics, metaphysics, and political theory.
Within a decade of his escape, Thomas had established a successful academic career within the Order. He began work on his Summa contra Gentiles, an apologetic work countering the teachings of Islam and Judaism. But it would be a later work, the Summa Theologiae, that would solidify his place as one of the Church’s greatest thinkers.
Thomas’ tireless devotion to the Church is exemplified by his dying words, spoken as he received last rites: “I have written and taught much about this very holy Body, and about the other sacraments in the faith of Christ, and about the Holy Roman Church, to whose correction I expose and submit everything I have written.”
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St. John of the Cross
Feast Day: December 14
Patronage: Contemplative life, mystics, and poets
Though born poor and persecuted throughout his life, St. John of the Cross is celebrated as one of the greatest Spanish poets in history. Catholics have contemplated his mystical writings for centuries, and his quick sketch of a vision inspired a well-known—and controversial—painting of Christ by Salvador Dali.
At age 25, the man who would become St. John of the Cross met Teresa of Avila, an influential Carmelite nun, and his life was changed forever. Inspired by her efforts at reform, the young priest followed Teresa and eventually founded a Carmelite monastery based on her principles.
Tensions between the establishment and these reformers mounted until, in 1577, John was imprisoned. During a confinement punctuated by public beatings, John penned some of his most celebrated mystical and poetic works. He eventually escaped by taking his prison door off of its hinges. When he died at the age of 49, he was so popular that the Carmelites declared that his body parts were to be shared among the order’s monasteries.